Vipassana & A New Year

Recently I completed a 10-day silent mediation course called Vipassana. During these 10 days you are not supposed to talk, gesture, touch, or look into the eyes of another human. In addition, books and writing materials are not allowed. Instead you live a simple monk-like existence and meditate 8 hours a day.

With a routine like this, there is nowhere to hide from yourself. No distractions to soothe the pain in your mind. From deep in the subconscious, thoughts bubble to the surface: thoughts which bring pleasure or discomfort, craving or aversion. Your job is only to watch these sensations ripple through the body and remain objective. Equanimous.

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To call it a mediation “retreat” would be misleading. It’s fucking work, and can be torture. There were times I wanted to yell in frustration at my wandering, neurotic, impulsive mind. Us humans like to think we’re independent agents with free will, when in fact we’re dominated by our conditioning and habitual thought patterns. Vipassana helped me understand this on an experiential level, and has given me the tools to affect change.

I really got to experience how all my suffering and unhappiness resides only in my mind. It’s not caused by any person or any situation. IT-IS-ONLY-IN-MY-MIND. The good news is: that’s also where an eternal spring of happiness flows, and all it takes to bathe in those refreshing waters is awareness, patience, and persistence.

The mind is also where creativity lives. If you can hush all your crazy bullshit, magic is there for the taking.

Needless to stay, I’m excited to see where things go from here. I feel like I’ve reached a turning point in my life… coinciding with the turning of the sun. (happy solstice!)

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Related:
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In the Service of Good

There’s a bill in congress which will restructure how Oregon’s BLM and Forest Service land is managed, and some are calling it a giveaway to lumber corporations. The bill will remove environmental protections and allow “old growth” to be defined by an unelected panel. If it passes, there will more clear cuts and herbicide sprays. The land right outside my door is at risk.

public_land_private_profit

Outraged by this money driven system, I was inspired to get political and use my talent to help sway public opinion. Our congressman, Peter DeFazio, will be holding a town hall meeting locally, and with logging supporters pledging to show up in full force, it’s sure to be a fiery assembly. I plan to distribute these flyers broadly and enjoy the show.

Blame Venus.

UGGGGGGHHHH!

I feel like there’s something there, but I don’t know what it is. This strange energy. It resembles frustration, yearning, a touch of self pity. Humph. I don’t know what it wants.

It wants something though, always wants something. What more can it want? I’m living healthy in a good place. I’m following my calling, hot on its tracks. If I had a hundred thousand dollars, cash, stuffed under my mattress and in hidden in tube socks, I wouldn’t be living any differently. So what do you want???

Some form of self expression? Don’t give me that artist crap.

Then what is this formless burning desire? It has no object, it only wants. It wants to shatter into a billion pieces and dust the landscape. It wants to impregnate the unwilling and clone itself endlessly. It wants to stare at the sun and renounce its name. It wants loving fingers run through its hair; it wants you to leave in the morning. It wants more metaphors, and of a better quality.

Life. Fucking life. Fucking goddamn motherfuckin’ wonderful life.

Dramatic Ramblings of a Madman

You’ve heard of cabin fever. It’s when a man, from lack of outside stimulus or companionship, begins exhibiting unusual behavior. Symptoms could include restlessness, irritability, paranoia, irrational thinking, laughter. There could be compulsive pacing of one’s yurt, making faces at the dark. Did you know Cabin Fever also includes sustained bouts of increased creativity? Well let me tell you: it does!

No I haven’t axe murdered nobody. This picture is reference for a pose I’m drawing for my new graphic novel. That’s right. SCREW KIDS BOOKS, I’M DOING A GRAPHIC NOVEL!! You can blame Mr. Craig Thompson and his excellent book, Blankets, for this sudden change in direction. Yes, his hefty tome and certain personal events inspired this story in this format, and when inspiration like this lands in your lap, it’s not like you can turn it down! Maybe you can smack the muses in the face, but not me, no sir!!

So I work. If I don’t put in at least 4 hours a day, I’m unhappy. But the work requires it, and it’s good. Finally… FINALLY… I have something real… something substantial that excites me to creation. And in the dark I realize… loneliness is my fuel.

Just Have Fun!

With so much information rattlin’ around my noggin’ since the conference, I’ve been stressed lately. There are so many things that must be done in order to become successful! I must begin social networking! Finish a story! Learn how to create Apps for the Apple and Android market! Improve my style! This morning I took a walk by town lake and meditated. While doing so, I realized that all this worry about calculating my moves and becoming successful is making my life miserable. If I’m not making art for the LOVE of it, why even bother? Who cares about success if you’re miserable? You only get one life, wouldn’t you rather spend it being happy?

At the conference I found myself comparing my work to others, judging my art for it’s lack of anatomical correctness or general “sloppiness”. Consequently when I returned home to draw I began tightening up my lines, trying to make the forms look “right”. Nothing kills my creativity more than trying to make things look “right”. Heck, trying at all is detrimental to my work!! It’s when I let go of all preconceived notions and allow myself to have fun watching the lines spill onto the page – that’s when I produce art that I’m happy with.

Although I do admire artwork that is tight and clean, I have to remember that that’s simply not me. The strength of my style lies in it’s looseness and immediacy. And who’s gonna tell Quentin Blake or Shel Silverstein they can’t draw? Only a fool, that’s who! Today I drew this cityscape. And yeah, the perspective is inconsistent and the colors could be better, but you know what? I had a fun doing it. So all you voices in my head can GO TO HELL!

SCBWI… Conference… Yadda, yadda… whatever.

So the big Austin SCBWI conference was this weekend, and man did it suck. Not the conference itself – it was fine – but my experience of the conference, for which I had very high expectations. Let’s go back a moment and revisit last year. 2010. My first professional conference. I walk in scared, timid, and green as the grass which waves in spring. My “portfolio” was scant, I had no expectations. About mid-day one of the guest speakers, Mr. Mark McVeigh (an agent in New York with extensive publishing experience), approches me and compliments my work. We briefly chat and he hands me his card. “Holy horse turds,” I thought, “I’ve been discovered my very first try!”

The encounter was ultimately fruitless (for reasons I won’t go into), but nonetheless had been tremendously encouraging, and perhaps set me up to expect a certain level or recognition at these events. This weekend that recognition did not come; I was not appreciated by industry professionals, nor did I win 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place in the portfolio contest. Overall I was disappointed since I feel my work has improved enormously over the past year.

But this is just my injured ego talking, and that’s okay – I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t exist. I’m gonna whine and sulk and throw my spaghetti at the wall. After that, I’m going to blog about all the GOOD which came from this conference, from which I did learn a lot. So stay tuned.

“Blue Period”
Unappreciated portfolio piece, consequently how I feel. 

The Late Harvest

Been working like a dog lately… 12 hour days are becoming the norm. I’m probably too tired to write a coherent blog post, but I’ll give it a shot.

Work has been coming in two forms: unpaid community volunteer work and very well paid work. I guess the two achieve some kind of taoist, universal balance? The karma of selfless good deeds has wrought personal abundance? Beats me… all I know is I’m too exausted to draw comparisons, make decent metaphors, or spell.
Yeah. So on Sunday (the big 10-10-10), a woman in the community organized a very successful event (in collaboration with 350.org) in which people came out and helped clear the hike & bike trail along Takilma Road. My day was spent reclaiming swaths of the trail from overgrown blackberry and ceanothus, throwing the cuttings into a large trailer, and taking it to the goats. Imagine if a big dumb baboon brought you your favorite food on a silver platter all day long. That’s what it was like being a goat on Sunday.

On Monday, a bunch of us volunteers went gleaning at a local farm. We combed through a gigantic mono-cultured corn field, and left with a few truck-beds of very nice corn which we distributed to food banks, charities, and schools. It was neat driving around delivering corn we harvested. I felt like Santa Clause.

Gleaning: Hard on the back!
Then today (and for the forseeable future), I did extremely boring and monotonus work for ridiculous sums of money. Actually, it’s not so ridiculous if you think about it… nobody is gonna do this type of work for less than $20/hr, really. Unless you live in another country or came here from another country. It’s soul sucking work and no self respectin’ American should have to do it! It’s work that transforms you from a living, breathing, possibly interesting human being —> into an automoton.
Yes, but most of us learn that survival is toil sooner or later. I keep reminding myself that I’m putting in my toil now, rather than later. If I work enough in the next few weeks, I’ll have my rent covered in Austin for a long time. I may not even have to get a job when I get back. I keep thinking about how nice that’ll be. Keep thinking how much time it’ll allow me to work on my art. It’s what keeps me going.
But man! I need a friend who’s into massage! My neck and shoulders are like rocks! I would give anything for a 30 minute massage: cash, cooking, cleaning, foot rubs, sexual favors, whatever you want!

Thoughtful Children’s Books in the Internet Era

In a fascinating article for The Atlantic entitled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“, author Nicholas Carr, using anecdotes and neurobiology, argues that the Internet is remapping our brains, making us adept at skimming through vast quantities of information, but making it difficult to delve deeply into subjects and allow space for true insight. As he puts it:

“My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

The premise of Carr’s article (and recently released book) is compelling, and I find myself wanting to agree with him. When I was a (only)child I spent much time alone, climbing trees, daydreaming, and thinking a lot. I attribute these activities to making me the thoughtful (if not slightly neurotic) person I am today. But what about today’s children? Is it possible to become a person of depth while being bedazzled by Tweets from such an early age? Is there any room for contemplation in the modern child’s stimulus inundated life?

Since I first picked it up at 6 years old, The Giving Tree has been my favorite picture book. Among other things, The Giving Tree asks you to consider abstract ideas like time. It’s a quiet book, yet beneath its subtly lay many complex issues and unanswered questions. Would a book like this sell anymore?

At the Austin SCBWI conference I attended this winter, a Bloomsbury editor came on stage and told us they’re looking for “Funny, energetic picture books.” Certainly The Giving Tree would not fit this category, not even perennial classics like Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny, or Where the Wild Things Are. A large part of me is offended that nowadays books like these could be passed by publishers in favor of a loud, obnoxious pigeon — but perhaps I’m just a grumpy old man, wrapped up in nostalgia and afraid of change. One thing for certain though: Our technology is affecting the way we see and relate to the world, and it’s changing all fields, children’s books included.